In a classic American short story, a young couple, poor but very much in love, fret over what to give each other for Christmas.
To buy her husband a chain for his proudest possession, a gold pocket watch, Della sells her proudest possession, her long brown hair, to be made into a wig. Jim finds Della a fine pair of hair combs, but the only way he can pay for them is to trade away his watch. When they exchange gifts on Christmas Eve and realize what they’ve done, their now-useless presents are all the more precious because of the love and sacrifice they represent.
The holiday of Christmas, which millions of Americans celebrate as a gift in the birth of Jesus, has inspired many such tales. Some deal with the lessons of generosity and hope, others with the value of friendship, family and faith. Oddly, one of the most famous, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, is essentially a ghost story. What they have in common is a spirit of redemption and rejoicing that has long touched the human heart.
Tradition is as much a part of the holiday as is its spirit. As in much of the world, millions of Americans will exchange gifts, worship together in their various ways, then gather with family and friends to complete the celebration with a nice meal. Many will volunteer to help the homeless, hungry and others in need.
These sentiments transcend nationality, however, and even religion. As the world gets smaller, the Christmas spirit is seen in many places, even war-torn Iraq. In a celebration sponsored by the Iraqi government at a public park in Baghdad recently, a red-costumed Santa Claus, an Iraqi flag draped over his shoulders, waved to a large crowd urging brotherhood and good cheer. Children dressed in costumes representing the country’s many ethnic and religious groups – Kurds, Turkmen, Yazidis, Christians, and Arab Muslims – held their arms aloft singing and echoing his refrain.
That message – peace on earth and good will toward men – also is one that Americans wish to share at this time of year with all citizens of the world.